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Sarcasm, Trust and Innovation

By David Penglase

Whenever something I’ve held as a truth is challenged, I realise that I am right on the edge of my boundary of beliefs, and become even more mindfully present to explore what’s really going on.

That’s what happened when I saw some latest research on the impact of sarcasm on team creativity and innovation.

I’ve always been under the impression, based on some older research that I can’t even remember now where it was from, that higher levels of sarcasm created lower levels of team creativity and innovation.

Not necessarily so it would seem.

Research by Huang, Gino and Galinsky found that while sarcasm did indeed create higher levels of conflict between team members, a by-product of that conflict seems to be increased creativity through abstract thinking.

I’m not sure that I would personally want to be working in a team where there was an acceptance that high levels of conflict between team members was ok because at the end of the day, it creates more innovation.

Innovation at what cost?

The research did highlight that creativity and innovation were more likely to occur in a sarcastic environment only when the giver and receiver of the sarcasm had high levels of trust in their relationship.

However, as we know from other research (for example the Trust Report by the Edelman Group), trust in organisations is at a tipping point. Trust is at risk… and as this new research supports, if trust is at risk, then creativity and innovation is at risk.

The solution?

Focus on building trust in relationships at work. Even if some of the team revert to sarcasm, the trust based relationships will withstand the sarcasm, and maybe even harness it to come up with creative and innovative ideas to boost organisational success.



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